Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Segment of the Rainbow

December 31, 2011
New Year's Eve

Little did I realize that the end of my previous blog, "See You in 2012" would almost be true -- the past three weeks have been a whirlwind. The workdays are longer, and the natural days are shorter. Time to get outside, and to journalize, has been at a premium, but tonight, on this last evening of the year, there's a moment to sit and reflect on the past year, and contemplate the future. 
In 2011, I spent many happy hours outdoors -- walking old trails, exploring new places, spending time rambling with kindred souls. Hours spent enjoying the many gifts that Nature bestows on us which such seeming abandon. I am grateful for all these things.
Of course, all I can do is offer some some photgraphic bits and pieces, mere glimpses into the past year.
And as for words -- once again, I leave them to Mr. Thoreau:

If the day and night are such
that you greet them with joy,
and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs,
is more elastic, more starry, more immortal, ...
That is your success.
All nature is your congratulation,
and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself.
The greatest gains and values
are farthest from being appreciated.
We easily come to doubt if they exist.
We soon forget them.
They are the highest reality. ...
The true harvest of my daily life
is somewhat as intangible and indescribable
as the tints of morning or evening.
It is a little star-dust caught,
a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.

   Walden, “Higher Laws”

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Frostweed Follies

Various days in November 2011
Mud Pond, Moreau Lake State Park, NY

In the shade of the wood,
on the hillside just west of the cold pond,
I am surprised to see
the frost of the cistus not in the least melted.
   HDT Journal, November 11, 1858

I was happy to lead three hikes at Mud Pond -- small excursions to try to catch the Helianthemum canadense (Rockrose, in the Cistus family) living up to its common name, Frostweed. (for the story of frostweed, see this link to an earlier blog).

It’s an ephemeral fall event that I look forward to every year. While it’s not hard to predict – the recipe calls for a cold clear night in early November – it can be difficult to predict exactly when those particular conditions will occur.
This year has been no exception -- and it has been unusually warm for months now. So we scheduled the walks for the most likely dates.

The first hike was scheduled for November 5th – and the conditions were perfect ! It was below freezing the night before, and it dawned clear that morning.
Unfortunately, no one signed up for that one. They missed seeing a great patch of frostweed “flowers.”

The next two walks, on the following Tuesdays, had several interested participants, but alas, the temperatures for both days were in the sixties. All I could do was show them where the plant grows (it is quite nondescript and plain when not in bloom) and hope that some folks would be able to return, to see it making frost-flowers.

I did see it again, late in the month, when the cool nights returned. The frostweed was just about done for the year, but it did manage to put on one more show.

Here are photos from throughout the month – of some things we saw on those various Frostweed Walks.

On most of these cool mornings, you can see the more familiar forms of frost, which make everything seem sugar-coated:

On one warm morning, something caught my eye --
could possibly that be frostweed?

Nope! a glance upward reveals the source:

All summer I have walked beneath this branch and never knew of the hornet's nest above.

Thoreau referred to the late-turning oaks on the hillsides
as the "roses" of autumn. Now I can see why.

The black birches are getting a lot of attention from what appears to be an expanding beaver family at Mud Pond. You could smell the wintergreen scent from the freshly-gnawed trees along the shore.
This attracted some insect attention, as well -

Does anyone know what these are? My guess is some sort of fungus-gnat:

On the second walk, some young folks joined us. Along the way, we met some of the regulars of Mud Pond - including the unofficial Trail Mascot:
a dog named Derpy ! Here getting oodles of attention:

Too bad the kids weren't with me on the day I saw THIS critter, who was taking advantage of the warm sunny sandbank - they would have loved it!

At the end of his musings on Frostweed that day, Thoreau wrote:

This, at least, is an evidence
that cold weather is come.

Despite the fluky warm spells this year, at some point,
Winter will eventually appear.
There is other evidence that it's on the way:
Shadows are lengthening-

and one definite sign that summer is really, REALLY over:

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks

November 24, 2011
Queensbury, NY
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone !

[an excerpt from Thoreau's Journal, August 17, 1851:]

I am not so poor --
I can smell the ripening apples --

the very rills are deep --

the autumnal flowers, the Trichostema dichotoma --

not only its bright blue flower above the sand
but its strong wormwood scent
which belongs to the season --

feed my spirit --
endear the earth to me --
make me value myself & rejoice --

the quivering of pigeons' wings
reminds me of the tough fibre of the air which they rend.

I thank you, God.
I do not deserve anything.
I am unworthy of the least regard
& yet I am made to rejoice.

I am impure & worthless --
& yet the world is gilded for my delight

and holidays are prepared for me --

& my path is strewn with flowers.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Tale of Two Lodges

November 12, 2011
The Fen near Glen Lake, NY

I derive more of my subsistence from the swamps
which surround my native town
than from the cultivated gardens in the village.

    HDT Walking

It’s been waaay too long since my last blog post, so today we will zoom forward in time, to more recent days.
Never fear, there will be posts to come that speak of the days between – those golden autumn days – but for now, come with me to a local place called The Fen.

Inspired by my friend Jackie’s recent paddling excursions, and the return of unseasonably warm weather, I dragged the ironically-named “Swifty” kayak back out of his den in my storage bin.

Jackie and I had tried to paddle the Fen in August, but there was a bit too much plant life growing in the channel, making paddling a strenuous exercise.

Today, we decided to give it another try.  Much of the growth has died back, curled up, or sunken below, making a fairly clear pathway into the Fen. Still a little messy in places, but it was better than last time.

Water willows are now brown arches, sheltering new construction by one of the local muskrats.

It was indeed a beautiful day, if chilly at first. I was thankful that I had put on longjohns and gloves against the morning breeze.

The sun was out, though the rays were weakened and at a low angle.
It made all the swamp plants glow wonderfully.

Thoreau was particularly fond of leatherleaf:

these little leaves are the stained windows
in the cathedral of my world,

he wrote in his Journal on April 19, 1852.

We made our way toward the area where the fen begins, where it curves around Route 9 and originates on private property. It is not wilderness, but a little wild-spot nestled between an amusement park, roads and houses.

Unfortunately, it is downstream from said amusement park (in the summer you can hear people screaming on the roller-coaster), and downstream from their newest addition, an indoor water-park/hotel. Said hotel is styled like a big faux-Adirondack “Lodge.” Oh well, I suppose the tourists like it well enough.

Meanwhile, we puzzled over this mysterious aqua-colored pool of water, in the middle of the stream, as we headed in that direction.

It was definitely a strange swimming-pool color. (Any ideas, Al ??)

We pressed on, further into the swamp than I have ever gone. We rounded a bend and drifted out into a secret pond. Here was a TRUE Adirondack Lodge !

We turned about at a small beaverdam, where the flow seemed to peter out, and went back to poke around in the pondy area. There was one active-looking lodge, and several older ones nearby.

Here on a floating log, mounds of mud seem carefully patted into place. At the near end, what looks like some plants, purposely set out to dry in the sun. Maybe it will be used for bedding in the lodge?

No sign of the residents, however. It sure looks like prime turtle-basking territory as well.
Can’t wait to come back here in the spring.

As we headed back the way we came in, we saw several rustic duck-blinds in the reeds (but no hunters,) 
bog rosemary,

a dead cormorant, a live osprey,
bunchberry growing in a new place,
some cool fungus,

a still-red pitcher-plant,

And possibly the last lily-bud of the season.

It’s great to have a pal who doesn’t mind putting gloves on and going out into a swamp in November!